Growing up on a really big lake in Northern NJ, the summertime was filled with late afternoon thunderstorms, where the water would become almost still and turn greenish-brown, and there would suddenly be no current, no breeze…………..and the air became full of a thick humidity and the skies would deepen and darken to the point where it felt like night time was upon us. We lived in a cove surrounded on one side by a mountain (behind our house) and across the lake were homes that mirrored ours. Mom used to let my sisters and I stay out on the dock until the first sounds of thunder. Then we had to come inside – to safety- My mom used to tell us (so we wouldn’t be scared – that when it thundered, the Angels were bowling)
That rumbling sound in my mind is so memorable. It was an altered state of time. It was the calm before the storm that lulled me, and it was truly so peaceful. I would wait with anticipation with my two little sisters for the big rain drops to begin to fall and for the wind to pick up and finally start blowing. We’d notice that the leaves on the trees would turn backwards and their undersides where a lighter/paler shade of green, in response to the song of the storm. As soon as the rain started and everything was eerily picking up the tempo of a good, late afternoon storm, mom would call us inside one more time, and we’d scurry to the third floor of our lake house to our parent’s bedroom and we’d pull back the sheers and push aside the curtains and sit quietly in front of the big picture window and watch the show.
Often the rain would come down hard and it would pour for what seemed like hours…..the first thing that happened was you got a big whiff of that fresh-rained-on-rock-smell (one of my favorite scents to this day) and you waited with anticipation for the thunder to roar and the lightening to clap. Sometimes the rain moved in sheets and appeared to be coming down sideways. I loved to stare at the lake and watch the rain land upon it’s surface, thousands of ripples bumping into one another, the sound was unique and mesmerizing. It was like meditation in motion. You were soothed both visually and auditorily.
I am still amazed at, and love nothing better than to be woken up in the wee hours of the morning – to the symphony of nature rumbling through our town, shaking our house, and still love to watch the lightening flood our home – to this day.
Mom also taught us that once you heard the thunder, you’d count 1-one thousand, 2-one thousand, 3-one thousand until you saw the lightening – and that was how many miles away the storm was. Or was it the other way around? You saw lightening and then counted until you heard the thunder – I can’t remember, but we had such fun figuring that out.
We would often put on our cotton baby doll pajamas in the early afternoon and mom would sprinkle us all with Johnson’s baby powder for in the late 60’s and early 70’s, we didn’t have air conditioning, we had old-fashioned window fans, and I shared a small 10×10 foot bedroom in this converted summer bungalow with 2 sisters, 3 twin beds and one closet. This house also had just one bathroom. How did we do that? Somehow we did. We took turns and were grateful for food on our table, clothes to wear, most of which mom sewed and to be a family. We never went on vacations or to the ocean except for day trips because mom and dad said we didn’t need to go anywhere, we had a vacation every single day.
The most beautiful part of the story is that we truly had all we needed. We had a home, on the biggest lake in New Jersey, we had a sailboat, a row boat, canoes, paddleboats and a myriad of powerboats. Most of these ‘toys’ were given to us, from people who paid by dad and thanked him for some favor or laborious side job he did and all were all fixer-uppers – it didn’t matter! We were pretty much on vacation for most of childhoods. I didn’t realized how wonderful it was and how simple it was to float on donated black rubber airplane inner tubes that dad brought home from work until I grew up and moved away. The horse flies LOVED to attack us when we were in those tubes. That is a memory I would like to forget, they stung!!
I miss the peace and like to muse about the quiet before a storm. As children we had time to listen to nature, we didn’t miss the scents and the sights and we appreciated the simple gifts God gave us. Time, nature, a mom and dad, siblings to play with, and summer friends who came from long island and the city to live in their cottages and play with us. I miss the peace and solitude of the water lapping the rocks along the edge of the cove and the sound of the ducks quacking in the morning at sunrise. I miss early morning swims when the air was chillier than the water and the mist rose from it’s surface as I sliced thru the current-less laps. I miss the runs around the 3 mile cove, the sound of my own breathing as I was surrounded by nothing more than water, and a sense of peace.
Each day as we go through the storms of life, I pray we seek to find comfort in the quiet, and that we know the calm before the storm is given to us as a gift, to contemplate the strength, the majesty and the wonder of a world that exists for us to learn from and enjoy. In that moment in time, before the heaven’s open and the rain pours down to cleanse and nourish the land, we, too, can be baptized in the richness and purity of a thunderstorm.
What storms are you encountering? Can you find the calm?